Model Cars Posts

Meet Mac Ragan, Diecast Collector, Historian (and Industry Icon)

Mac RaganOver the past couple of months, hobbyDB has been featuring the stories of some of the folks who bring you the diecast cars you know and love. Mac Ragan is well-known for his work in the diecast vehicle industry over the last couple of decades (he was inducted in the Model Car Hall of Fame, then still called Diecast Hall of Fame in 2010), but he got his start as an avid collector and historian of the hobby.

Many collectors know him as a Johnny Lightning designer and Brand Manager (with Playing Mantis and RC2, from 2003 to 2007. He was also GreenLight’s New Casting Director from 2007 to 2008. His life with toy cars goes back to the 1990s when he became a book publicist in New York City.A background in art history helped me secure a job at the exclusive art-book publisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,” he said. “My responsibilities included getting new books reviewed and featured in magazines, plus securing spots for authors on television shows.”

After a few years, he decided it was time for a change in his career. He was already a long-time collector of toy cars, so he decided he wanted to photograph them. His mother bought his first camera in the late 1990s.These were the final days of film, and the camera was a fully manual Nikon FM2. My idea was to photograph cars from a child’s vantage point, and treat them as objects to be played with by children and admired by adults,” he said. By this time, he was on the road to creating his own books.

Johnny Lightning 1955 Chrysler C300

Johnny Lightning 1955 Chrysler C300 (Photo courtesy jlcollector.net)

From 2000-2004, he published 5 books on various diecast brands. Titles include Diecast Cars of the 1960s (2000), Hot Wheels Cars (2001), Tomart’s Price Guide to Johnny Lightning Vehicles (2001), Matchbox Cars: The First 50 Years (2002), Hot Wheels: 35 Years of Cool Cars (2003), as well as a pair of Hot Wheels Car-a-Day Calendars (2003 and 2004).

Given his tight connection to JL, the Matchbox and Hot Wheels titles may come as a surprise. “You need to make contacts at the brand, no matter what kind of toy-car book you’re creating. I wrote all of my books before I worked in the industry, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of current and past employees.”

Mac Ragan booksMac would have a second career at Johnny Lightning. The brand disappeared for a while, but Tom Lowe revived it at his new company, Round 2. Mac returned to meet up with much of the original crew in 2015.This time I was Director of Social Media for Johnny Lightning, Auto World, and Racing Champions Mint. My photography skills came in handy on the new websites as well as the Facebook and Instagram pages.”

GreenLight 1971 AMC Javelin Police Cruiser

GreenLight 1971 AMC Javelin Police Cruiser (Photo courtesy Wyatt Davis)

He left Round 2 in 2017 to focus on his collection, and feature it on Facebook (@macragan) and Instagram (@macragan500). “I primarily collect 1/64-scale toy vehicles from around the world. My favorite toys replicate everyday cars we see on the streets. Four-door sedans and station wagons are favorites, from the 1960s to present day.”

Among his favorite JL creations are the 1955 Chrysler C-300 Mexican Rally Racer, 1936 Hispano-Suiza, and the 1959 De Soto Fireflite Police Car. He is also fond of the Johnny Retro series, with colorful tinted transparent lacquer over brushed bare metal, and the later Holiday Classics assortments from 2004 to 2007.

At GreenLight, Mac is proud of a change he helped institute for the overall brand. In 2008, they went to smaller, more accurate tire and rim molds for many models. “I consider this my most valuable contribution to the GreenLight casting bank,” he said. “It was priority number one from my first day, as I felt that the pre-2008 wheels and tires were often too large.” His favorite designs from that brand include the 1971-1974 AMC Javelin and AMX, and the 1960s Dodge D-100 Pickup casting and over-the-cab camper.

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA

Auto World 1970 Mercury Cougar (Photo courtesy awcollector.com)

Even before he was on staff at Round 2, he helped develop several early castings. Among his favorites are the Auto World 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger and 1970 Mercury Cougar (“My chance to improve on the old Johnny Lightning Convertible version!”)

“My parents told me that I played with toy cars from the age of two,” Mac said. “That was in Auburn, Alabama. My favorite real car, at three years old, was apparently the Karmann Ghia. The first toy cars I remember was a set of plastic European vehicles, all about four inches long. I soon graduated to Matchbox toys and then Hot Wheels cars.”

Johnny Lightning 1936 Hispano-Suiza

Johnny Lightning 1936 Hispano-Suiza (Photo courtesy jlcollector.net)

Surprisingly, JL was not his initial inspiration as a childhood diecast fan. “Although I’m closely associated with the Johnny Lightning brand, my first love will always be regular wheels Matchbox cars,” he said. “I played with them in my early childhood, and these happy memories remain with me to this day. From the modern era, my favorites are Johnny Lightning, Tomica, Siku, Norev, and Auto World.”

Like many collectors, he is attempting to recreate the lost collection of his childhood. “I gave all my cars to a younger neighbor when I was 11 years old,” he said. “I began truly collecting after college. Although I have a few models from the late 1950s, the core of my collection begins in the mid-1960s.”

As a child, he collected other things as well… rocks, seashells, coins, and stamps to name a few.As an only child and the final member of my family’s branch on the tree, I ended up with many inherited ‘treasures,'” he said.Paintings by my mother and a close friend cover the walls of my home. I’m a casual collector of art pottery and contemporary ceramics. However, I don’t consider myself a serious collector of anything other than toy cars.”

GreenLight 1965 Dodge D100 with Camper

GreenLight 1965 Dodge D100 with Camper (Photo courtesy Wyatt Davis)

The collector and designer come together whenever Mac wanders over to the toy aisle at a store that carries diecast. He can’t help but scan the pegs looking for his handiwork. “I always do that,” he exclaimed. “I did that when I was designing and I still do. Castings have long lifespans, and I continue to find GreenLight models with wonderful new deco schemes on castings I created over ten years ago.”

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA

Auto World 1970 Dodge Challenger TA (Photo courtesy awcollector.com)

Clearly, he has been fortunate to turn a lifetime passion into a successful career. “For me, my toys tell the story of the automobile (and more broadly, popular culture) for the past 60 years. It’s something to pass to the next generation after I’m gone.” He finds the hobby relaxing as well. “I know that when I enter the die-cast aisle I’m transported to a calmer place. I forget about all the stress of everyday life.”

“It’s not always easy to know why you collect. But if you think about it sometime when you have a quiet moment, you’ll probably learn something important about yourself.”

Tomica Diecast Returns to North America

tomica UOS 2019Tomica packagingAfter a long absence from the U.S. and Canadian market, Japanese diecast giant Tomica is coming back. An initial wave of 6 models recently started showing up at Walmart stores, followed soon by half a dozen more.

Tomica has been in the diecast business since the early 1970s, and are the biggest brand in Japan as well as many other countries. Since the U.S. market was originally a big part of their plans, their offerings have included a lot of American marques and models. The relaunch includes specifically modern Japanese cars and trucks.

tomica opening features

Most Tomica cars feature opening doors, hoods, or hatches.

Tomica is generally known for well-detailed, realistic models of actual cars, as opposed to unlicensed fantasy designs or extreme customs and hot rods. Their cars are around 1/64, but are usually scaled to take advantage of existing wheel sizes. So they might range from 1/50 to almost 1/100 for something like the 1970s Winnebago camper. Tomica cars are marked on the packaging and on the baseplate with the exact scale. Despite the scale differences, Tomica’s well-proportioned, sensible vehicles have been popular as scenery on model railroads.

Tomica gtr

From Wave 1: Nissan GT-R, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift.

The first wave of cars to hit the pegs at Walmart include a Nissan GT-R, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift Sport, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota Prius. The second wave includes a Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota C-HR, Lexus RC-FNissan Note, and Subaru Impreza. These should be familiar to U.S. buyers as they most of them are offered in 1/1 scale.

tomica cx5

Wave 1: Mazda CX-5, Toyota Prius.

The new release also includes a pair of Japanese trucks: in wave one, a Isuzu with a payload of giant french fries, and in wave two, a Hino with a family of pandas sitting on the back. So they do get whimsical sometimes. (Other fun past offerings have also included vehicles similar to the Hot Wheels Character Cars, based on such Nippon legends as Godzilla.)

tomica panda truck

These trucks are part of Tomica’s 2019 return to North America.

Their cars also feature premium features like working suspension and opening doors long after those features have disappeared with other brands. There are usually lots of painted details such as lights, trim, and even elaborate grille badges and nameplates. The packaging has a very international feel with lots of Japanese text, and inside the blister is a box reminiscent of the designs the cars have traditionally come in over the years.

Wave 2: Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyta C-HR, and Lexus RC-F.

The cars are set to retail for around $5 slotting them in between Hot Wheels premium lines and Johnny Lightning’s latest offerings. The initial dozen will be followed by more of their other current castings as Tomica celebrates their 50th anniversary in 2020.

Tomica subaru

Wave 2: Nissan Note, Subaru Impreza.

What’s your favorite Tomica diecast? Let us know in the comments!

Adding 100s of White Metal and other Diecast Rarities

Musings By Joschik
Christian obsesses over collectibles, antiques and toys more than the average person, but (he believes) in a productive way. Documenting collectibles has been a passion since working on a book about his favorite childhood toys from Timpo 38 years ago.  He wrote recently about why we are in danger of losing more information than ever before and how hobbyDB is working against that trend.


I wanted to write up about two of my heroes that share hobbyDB’s vision about documenting every collectible ever made.

The first is Albert Kopans.  Albert has been collecting model cars since he was 8 years old.  And he very early started to be fascinated with handmade models, one-offs, and other diecast oddities. Over the years he made acquaintances with many makers; most, unfortunately, are no longer making models and held thousands of models in his hands as he switched subjects every few years and sold what was not core anymore.  After a very extensive collection of Ferrari and Lamborghini models he stopped collecting but still trades in models.


Here some of Albert’s earlier models 

And the other one is our very own Champion here on the site, Karl Schnelle (AKA Stroget).  He contacted Albert enquiring about some images he had posted on a diecast forum of models that we did not have here on hobbyDB.  Albert quickly offered 100s of images of rare models and Karl has been busy adding them with so far 270 already live on the site, 130 currently being processed (we help Karl by uploading them through our import tools for large data sets) and uncounted more to come!

Karl in his elements (models and beer)

Here is one of the new entries  –

ABC Brianza Alfa Romeo Dardo Pininfarina 1998 

 

Thanks to the two of you!

7 Generations of Collectible Corvette Concepts (While We Wait for C8 Diecast)

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Chevrolet dropped a new design on the car world last week, the 8th generation Corvette, also known as the C8. It’s the first mid-engined Vette ever, and a darn handsome car. And if the pricing information is accurate, it’s a bargain starting just under $60,000. We’ve never seen anything like it.

No really, we didn’t get much of a preview because there wasn’t a wild concept car designed ahead of time like most previous redesigns. In the past, some of those Corvette concepts would be outrageous, some dead on, but most gave at least a glimpse of the general direction the new design would take. In this case, an almost finished prototype in camouflage suddenly started driving around. It was accurate, but hard to see.

corvette c8We would love to show you small scale versions of it, but… there don’t seem to be any yet. The way this car was developed killed the lead time for diecast companies to create miniatures. So until we get the C8 in small scale, let’s look at some earlier concepts that made it in miniature. While basically every year of Corvette has been represented in diecast, a good number of concept cars have been available as well. Some were definitely more predictive than others…

C1 Corvette (1953-62)

corvette c1 nomad

Fans have asked for a Corvette Shooting brake since the C1 Nomad was shown.

The very first Corvette was a startling revelation to American car buyers. Compact, with only two seats, it looked like a million bucks but didn’t cost it. It only came in one color (white) and one body type (convertible). Chevy showed off some new possibilities with some other body styles, but none were produced. The Nomad shooting brake concept would predict the basic style of 1955-57 Bel-Air based wagons.

C2 Corvette (1963-67)

corvette c2 concepts

The Stingray Racer and Mako Shark clearly signaled the C2’s styling.

The 1959 Stingray Racer  was a very fast, drop dead sexy car that really showed off the future styling and performance of the Corvette several years in advance. Much of the design made it into the C2 Vette, the shortest lived but possibly most beautiful generation. The Mako Shark  concept also showed off some of those lines with some very shark-inspired features.

C3 Corvette (1968-82)

corvette c3 mako shark

The Mako Shark II was all Hot Wheels had to go on at the time. Not bad, eh?

corvette c3 Astrovette

The AstroVette was a concept towards a swoopier C3.

The third gen Corvette was previewed with the Mako Shark II. Aside from the tapered fastback (a holdover from the C2), the design was pretty accurate. Somehow, the Custom Corvette , one of the Original 16 Hot Wheels, looked really, really close to the production car despite General Motors tightly guarding the design. The AstroVette concept was a bit over the top but had those Coke bottle curves.

As the C3 evolved over a very long run, additional concepts showed ways to possibly freshen it up. It was during this era the first potential mid-engine Corvette concepts started to tantalize buyers. Spoiler alert… none of them would come to fruition.

C4 Corvette (1984-96)

corvette c4 aerovette

The AeroVette kind of presaged the C4 if you squint.

Fun fact: There were no 1983 Corvettes sold to the public… the turnover from the C3  to the C4 took longer than expected, so they skipped a year. None of the concepts that preceded it really showed off the clean-edged style of the production car. The AeroVette  from 1973 (and revised years later) kind of hinted at those smooth lines, but that was about it.

C5 Corvette (1997-2004)

corvette c5 concepts

C5 Stingray 3 and resin test shot from Matchbox.

The C5 was teased in several rounded, swoopy concepts and drawings before Chevy finally settled on the new design. The Stingray III concept showed some of those directions in a very 90s shade of purple. This was one case where the restraint of the final design was an improvement. In some interesting diecast history, designers at Matchbox were preparing a new scale model from limited information, when they were accidentally sent files and molds for a larger scale model. From that, they were able to craft the first accurate 1/64 scale C5.

C6 Corvette (2005-2013)

corvette c6

Sorry, folks… no models of C6 concepts because there weren’t any publicly shown cars.

Probably the most subtle redesign in Corvette history, there wasn’t really an actual concept of the C6 to show off. There were renderings in all the automotive publications, but no show car.

C7 Corvette (2014-2019)

The 2009 Stingray concept was designed in time to appear in the latest Transformers movie.

Since the C5 and C6 were so similar in design philosophy, the next generation called for something radical. The 2009 Stingray Concept was shown well ahead of the redesign and boasted some wild new ideas. By the time the C7 hit the streets, it had been toned down considerably. It was still a major departure, however. Still not a mid engine, of course.

C8 Corvette (2020-)

corvette c8 camoflage

There was no publicly shown C8 concept… just this camo’d beauty.

Which brings us to the C8. GM was so tight with the information and licensing that no scale models of the latest generation were available at the time of the reveal. And with no concept cars to work from, there have been a few years of the same designs kicking around with no new diecast. It’s certain we’ll see some new miniatures based on this mid-engine miracle on the store shelves and pegs soon.

Know of other Corvette concepts? We’re especially interested in the ones that were reproduced in miniature. 

Limited Licensed Promo Hot Wheels – Collect Them All If You Can Find Them!

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Anyone interested in collecting Hot Wheels can find a pretty much complete list of every variant of every model ever made, as well as accurate lists of upcoming offerings.

There is an exception to that rule, however, when it come to limited licensed promo Hot Wheels models. A company such as Supreme, makers of skate-related fashion, might offer a vehicle (or a matching set in this case) with their logo plastered all over it.

hot wheels supreme bmwWhat makes these rare for completist collectors is that since they are distributed by the company who licensed them, many of them do not end up on the official Mattel release schedules, so diecast collectors might not know about them until they sell out at stores, online, or via mail-in promotions. Eventually they might show up on the secondary market. In fact, the target market for these items would likely not include traditional diecast collectors, but fans of the brand, so some of these might not ever get resold.

hot wheels twizzlers van

This is actually not a promo car.

Davis Sprague is an avid collector who has added quite a few items to the hobbyDB database. He happens to specialize in really odd variants such as these promo vehicles. “I prefer to focus on collecting variations, international releases, and anything that most collectors wouldn’t typically see every day at their local flea markets,” he said.

On a side note, Hot Wheels occasionally offers cross-branded cars as part of the Mainline series. Since these are widely available in most stores, these aren’t what we’re talking about here. Also, convention and event cars are not quite the same thing. Instead, let’s focus on models that were distributed well outside the usual collector channels. Many of these were released well before the internet became the instant toy news machine it is today, so finding out about them back then was hit-or-miss.

Davis was kind enough to send us a pretty comprehensive list of his favorite promos.

hot wheels promo cars

hot wheels fish o sour

Fat Fendered ’40 (2001 Chuck E Cheese’s Game Prize)
This one was fun to get… it was a prize to be earned at Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant/arcades. There’s no shame in playing kids games to get something this awesome, right?

C. Rex Mobile Nissan Hardbody (1994 Kraft Mail-In Promotional)
Speaking of cheesy mascots, this pickup was only available by mailing in mac and cheese proofs. In some cases, promotions like this may have been mentioned in TV ads, but most likely, you just had to spot it on the shelf at the grocery store.

Fish-O-Saurs VW Drag Bus (1998 Van de Kamp’s mail-in promo)
Do you like fish sticks? Good, because there were several vehicles available in this promotion (and one the year before) that required sending in proof of purchase seals.

hot wheels promo carsFatlace Volkswagen T1 Panel Van (Fatlace Promo)
Speaking of VW Buses, Fatlace, a “dope, ill, lifestyle” brand, made this T1 Panel Bus available only through them. It includes the slogan “Collect Everything” on the door, so what are you waiting for?

Second Wind (1983 Spontex promotional)
If this looks like Speed Racer’s Mach 5 with a sticker on the hood, well, yeah, it kind of is. The Second Wind was intended to be a Mach 5, but Mattel didn’t secure the licensing, so they modified it slightly and renamed it. As for the sticker, Spontex is a French cleaning supply company, and even though it’s just a sticker, it does come in a sealed blister, so finding one intact can be a challenge.

hot wheels promo carsAdidas High Voltage (2005 Adidas Shoes Promotion)
There was a chance collectors may have known about this one, as it came with a pair of kids Adidas Hot Wheels shoes. Which you bought for your kid, not for yourself, right?

Ecolab Ford Bronco 4-Wheeler (1994/1997 Ecolab Promo)
Maybe not the hippest brand on the planet, Ecolab (a clean water and hygiene services company) did this promo that resembles their service trucks. They are very sought after by collectors because of the popular casting and several wheel variations.

Since these don’t show up in more traditional outlets, these can be hard to keep track of, especially if you want to acquire them new. If you know of other recent or current promo vehicles from Hot Wheels, or especially from other diecast brands, let us know in the comments. Also, do you enjoy chasing these models from the source, or would you rather get them afterwards (such as on hobbyDB?)